Category: General

January 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the Campaign for Freedom of Information and the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act. A new book, FOI 10 years on: freedom fighting or lazy journalism (Abramis) is due to be published in February 2015).Nicholas Jones explores the errors of judgements that led to self-inflicted humiliation, and that culminated, after four years’ prevarication, in calamitous repercussions for confidence in the political process.

British politicians have continued to pay a heavy price for the House of Commons’ wilful obstruction of the disclosure required by the Freedom of Information Act.  An explosion of public anger in May 2009 that followed revelations about the way Members of Parliament had abused their expenses, and in some cases even defrauded the taxpayer, was far greater and lasted far longer than would probably have been the case if the Parliamentary authorities had started answering journalists’ inquiries as soon as the Act finally took effect in January 2005. The lesson of the Westminster expenses scandal is that if a managed release of information is rejected, and then subsequently thwarted, journalists will always try to retaliate and that illicitly-acquired data can invariably find a buyer in today’s competitive media market place.


Judging by the British public’s stubborn refusal to renew their faith in the trustworthiness of their politicians, the Parliamentarians of Westminster will have no option but to rue the day their predecessors vowed to do all they could to keep the financial affairs of MPs beyond the reach of the 2000 Freedom of Information Act.  If the House of Commons authorities had co-operated with journalists from the outset, rather than obstructed a new era of openness, the collateral damage could have been better controlled, if not minimised, and MPs might have gained a degree of respect for having taken the initiative in cleaning up their expenses system.  In the event the purchase by the Daily Telegraph of a purloined computer disk containing one and half million receipts gave a national newspaper the opportunity to dictate the news agenda for weeks on end as each day’s revelations about their extravagant and outrageous expenditure exposed the extraordinary lengths to which the country’s elected representatives had gone in order to profit at the taxpayers’ expense from their second-home allowances.  MPs were at the mercy of the news media, as were ministers and party leaders. Rarely had there been an occasion when reporters and editors had been so united in their collective determination to help exploit and manipulate data stolen from the Parliamentary fees office in what the news media was convinced was investigative journalism of the highest order and most definitely in the public interest.


If ever a testament was needed to the folly of not accepting the full consequences of the greater transparency demanded by Freedom of Information, there could hardly be a more pertinent reminder than the prison sentences imposed on five Labour MPs for false accounting. But whereas the illegality of claiming for a non-existent mortgage was inevitably a matter for the courts, it was the court of public opinion that shamed numerous Conservative Party grandees, the Tory knights of the shires, who for years had milked their allowances in order to subsidise their highly desirable country houses and lavish private amenities. Such was the public outrage at the deception and duplicity of the House of Commons Commission in overseeing the lack of accountability, and then in trying to perpetuate a cover-up, that the Speaker Michael Martin had no option but to resign in disgrace, the first time for over three hundred years that a Speaker had been forced out of office. 


Fallout from thwarting Freedom of Information shattered public trust in probity of MPs


In the immediate aftermath of the expenses scandal newspaper opinion polls indicated that trust in MPs had fallen to an all-time low.  By the end of the first week a YouGov survey indicated that 60 per cent of those questioned believed MPs had been ‘ripping us off’.1 Public revulsion intensified as the extent of the abuse was exposed. Five months into the scandal 73 per cent of those surveyed believed MPs were ‘still dishonest’2 Another poll showed that only 13 per cent of people trusted politicians to tell the truth, MPs’ worst score in the 26-year history of the survey and lower even than the rating for journalists.3 Although many of the unusually high number of 148 MPs who stood down before the 2010 general election had been tarnished by their expenses claims, the newly-elected House fared no better. Early in 2013, when MPs were debating a pay increase, there was no sign of any recovery in their public standing: one poll suggested that only 14 per cent trusted MPs4;another found only 18 per cent ‘generally trust politicians to tell the truth’ and they remained the least trusted profession after journalists on 21 per cent.5


  Given the widespread public support for the news media’s role in holding politicians to account there is no likelihood of a quick fix for the House of Commons.  Deeply embedded in the mindset of journalists is a narrative that MPs were exposed as having been not only unbelievably greedy but that they were also only too willing to put themselves above the law.  As a result, readers are reminded regularly, especially in the tabloid press, of the extravagant claims that were made in the past; any proposal to increase MPs’ pay to compensate for a stricter and less generous expenses regime is greeted with critical banner headlines and damning editorials; and there remains a lingering suspicion that given half a chance MPs would once again try to impose a blanket of secrecy over the finer points of their remuneration and expenses. 


Political correspondents could not remember an occasion when a single newspaper had succeeded in keeping the Westminster establishment on the defensive for so long. Initially, after the Daily Telegraph’s opening salvo, ‘The truth about the Cabinet’s expenses’6, there was stunned disbelief in Whitehall and Westminster. The then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, his ministers, party leaders and the House of Commons authorities had been given no advance warning that a group of journalists had gained exclusive access to four years’ worth of MPs’ receipts and their private correspondence with the Parliamentary fees office.  For a relatively modest outlay of £110,000 a newspaper had acquired four million separate pieces of information, a treasure trove of illicit material, but also potentially incriminating evidence. For several weeks the country became transfixed by the grasping ingenuity that had been deployed by MPs as they went to inordinate lengths to take full advantage of an additional costs allowance worth just over £23,000 a year. A claim for purchasing a floating duck house and another for cleaning a moat seemed out of this world to the average citizen, as did the realisation that an MP had dared to claim for a phantom mortgage.  Amid the ensuing hue and cry the House of Commons’ original culpability in having defied the Freedom of Information Act seemed to have been rendered  a mere footnote when set against the more immediate demands that excessive and fraudulent claims should be repaid and that heads should roll.  But the public’s trust in the probity of their elected representatives had been well and truly shattered and a generation of MPs have found it impossible to shake off their responsibility, however limited, for having impeded Freedom of Information requests and for then having acquiesced for so long in an attempted cover-up.


‘They pretty much laughed in my face’ said FOI campaigner


Heather Brooke, an American journalist who had already established herself as a doughty investigator of politicians’ expenses claims, was one of the first to prepare for the day when MPs’ financial affairs would be within the scope of Freedom of Information.  In February 2004, ten months before Act would finally come into force, she asked if the House of Commons intended publishing details of each MP’s expenses. She was assured information would be released in October 2004 but in the event publication amounted to no more than a summary of the total paid out to each MP for office costs, travel and the additional costs allowance for maintaining a second home. Although there was no detailed breakdown, the figures did even more to fuel the news media’s interest.  A number of political correspondents had spent years trying to penetrate the secrecy surrounding MPs’ expenses and their appetite had been whetted yet again by the vast range in the individual amounts being claimed and then reimbursed. Once the Act took effect in January 2005, Ms Brooke put in an FOI request for the expenses claims of all 646 MPs. She was not alone in taking the initiative: two other reporters had filed similar requests.  Jon Ungoed-Thomas of the Sunday Times submitted a request for the expenses claims of the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Secretary of State for the Environment Margaret Beckett; Ben Leapman of the London Evening Standard (who later joined the Sunday Telegraph) asked to see the claims of six MPs, including Blair. An FOI request had also been submitted by the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, who had been investigating abuses in the expenses system. 


These initial requests were all rejected by the House of Commons Commission. Ms Brooke had tried several different approaches, narrowing down her requests.  She was told that it would be too expensive to collate such a huge volume of information. ‘They pretty much laughed in my face.’7 Baker said his ‘modest request’ for a breakdown of MPs travel costs by mode of transport was ‘fought tooth and nail’ by the Parliamentary authorities.8 After refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer the journalists appealed to the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas who agreed in April 2005 to conduct an investigation. Two years elapsed before Thomas ruled in June 2007 that the claims of fourteen MPs named by the reporters should be made public. Each MP’s annual claim would be broken down into categories such as rent and household goods, but without receipts or further detail.


Leaked emails subsequently obtained by the Sunday Telegraph indicated that in a draft decision in 2006 Thomas had proposed ordering publication of the full details of MPs’ expenses but he had ‘watered down’ his final judgement after pressure from the House of Commons.9 Jack Straw, then Leader of the House, held a meeting with the Commissioner between his preliminary and final rulings.  Straw denied that the meeting had played a ‘fundamental’ role in the about-turn. Nonetheless, instead of accepting the amended ruling, the House of Commons Commission appealed to the Information Tribunal. When the Tribunal decided in February 2008 that the expenses claims should be published in full, including receipts, the Parliamentary authorities went to the High Court to try to get the ruling overturned. The case was rejected and three judges ruled in May 2008 that information relating to the fourteen MPs should be released on the grounds that the ‘expenditure of public money through the payment of MPs’ salaries and allowances is a matter of direct and reasonable interest to taxpayers’.10


Rearguard action continued to impede FOI requests


As a result of the judgement the House of Commons agreed to make preparations to publish the claims for all MPs for the period 2004-8. FOI campaigners were in no mood to celebrate: the original publication date of October 2008 slipped to December and that too passed without any details being released. Speaker Martin and the senior MPs who made up the Commission had shown by their dogged obstruction, and by their appeal to the High Court, that they would not give up without a fight. Ben Leapman for one sensed further obstruction was imminent.  The claims of the six MPs that he had obtained were for the period 2001-4 but despite it being a test case under Freedom of Information, he subsequently discovered that once the Commission realised the vulnerability of MPs, it had ‘destroyed all other MPs’ receipts from the 2001-4 period’.11 His revelation about the steps that were still being taken to protect the secrecy surrounding MPs’ allowances was another indication of the unprecedented action that FOI campaigners believed the House of Commons would continue to sanction in order to impede the reach of the legislation.


Perhaps the most audacious rearguard move had been the attempt by the Conservative MP David Maclean to introduce a private member’s bill to exempt Parliament from FOI.  His Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill was passed by 96 votes to 25 on Friday 18 May 2007, the day of the week reserved for backbenchers’ legislation. Norman Baker was one of the MPs to vote against the Bill which ultimately failed to proceed beyond the House of Commons because a sponsor could not be found in the House of Lords.  The Bill wasstill being considered at Commons committee stage when the Information Commissioner ruled in June 2007 that the claims of fourteen MPs should be released to the three journalists, the ruling which was then challenged by the House of Commons Commission, of which Maclean was a member.


Despite losing its appeal to the High Court in May 2008, and finally agreeing that it would publish MPs’ expenses for 2004-8, the Commission had evidently not given up the possibility of obtaining a last-minute change in the law to maintain the confidentiality of MPs’ expenses. Behind-the-scenes pressure on the Labour government paid off in January 2009 when, after the two promised publication dates had passed, the Leader of the House Harriet Harman tabled a motion to exempt MPs’ claims and allowances from FOI requests. Labour MPs were told there would be a three-line whip on the motion and that they had to give it their support.  But after Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs indicated their opposition, the government backed down, withdrew the motion and announced a new publication date of 1 July 2009.


MPs’ addresses were the key to exposing worst abuses    


Although the government and the Commission had been forced to accept defeat, and the Parliamentary fees office was engaged in the mammoth task of preparing for the July release of MPs’ expenses, there had been one little-noticed success for the opponents of FOI.  A motion had been approved the previous year, in July 2008, to exempt MPs’ addresses from any FOI requests, despite this having been rejected in the ruling of the Information Tribunal and the High Court judgement.  Both had accepted the argument of the three journalists that unless MPs’ addresses were disclosed there would be no way of checking whether a second-home allowance was being abused.  Ben Leapman’s intention was to see whether bogus claims were being made, perhaps for properties which were not genuinely being lived in. 


The willingness of MPs to put party differences aside and close ranks in their doomed attempt to frustrate FOI investigations by withholding their addresses was perhaps only to be expected after the way some of their colleagues had been picked off, one by one, and had their claims trawled over by the news media.  In the two years immediately preceding the Daily Telegraph’s publication of what became a daily rogues’ gallery of errant MPs, there had been widespread coverage of several highly-embarrassing abuses of the system. One MP was pilloried for having paid a salary to his student son when there was no record of any work having been done; another was found to be paying a nanny from her Parliamentary expenses; and two Parliamentary pairs of husbands and wives were accused of having gained financially by jointly pooling their second-home allowances. 


The next MP to find her expenses had become headline news was the then Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. In her case it was not only her second home that had attracted attention but also the additional claims she had made. ‘Jacqui Smith put adult films on expenses’ was the front-page headline of the Sunday Express, one of the first newspapers to make use of the vast accumulation of data purloined from the Parliamentary fees office that included claim forms, receipts and correspondence.12 Her expenses had included a bill for two pay-per-view adult films which her husband later admitted to having watched and an additional 88p for the cost of a sink plug.


At least six newspapers had been offered access to a computer disk stolen from the Stationery Office which had been given the task of scanning a mountain of paperwork in preparation for publication.  Initially newspapers were offered access to an individual MP’s file at £5,000 a shot and there had been two earlier exclusives in the Mail on Sunday, about the second homes of Jacqui Smith and the employment minister Tony McNulty (although the source of both leaks was not identified). Only the Daily Telegraph promised to publish information relating to all 646 MPs, irrespective of party affiliations. Once a deal was agreed, it paid £100,000 for the disk and £10,000 to two businessmen who had acted on behalf of the whistleblowers, thought to be several disgruntled soldiers on leave from Iraq who had been employed to guard staff scanning the documents and who had been scandalised by what they had seen. The disk was an ‘unregistered’, unedited copy of the original hard drive and was unlike later versions from which MPs addresses had been redacted along with other identifying details in accordance with the terms of the 2008 House of Commons motion for dealing with FOI requests.


To flip or not to flip: a ‘no brainer’ for many MPs


Having an uncensored disk enabled the Daily Telegraph to coin a new word in the House of Commons vocabulary: ‘flipping’, the practice of an MP changing the designation of a ‘second home’ back and forth to enable improvements to be carried out at each address at the taxpayers’ expense. Flipping between properties in order to claim the maximum allowance was an abuse that had not been exposed until the Daily Telegraph’s team of journalists started checking individual claims against addresses.  Their step-by-step guide to working the system explained how an MP could nominate a London property as a ‘second’ home for refurbishment and then flip the designation to a constituency home, so that it too could be improved. MPs’ calculated exploitation of their allowances in order to extend and improve their property holdings had become common practice among MPs from across the House and any doubts within the news media about the justification for the theft of private information were swept away once the Daily Telegraph revealed that even some of Gordon Brown’s cabinet ministers had joined those who had been busily massaging their expenses in order to benefit from rising house prices.  


Heather Brooke told Channel 4 News on the evening the story broke that the public had every right to know how MPs were using public money.13 If they were so arrogant as to claim for a bath plug on expenses or flip their allowances between two different properties, they had to realise they were not beyond scrutiny.  ‘MPs came up with the excuse of personal privacy but this is all about very personal embarrassment...This will make MPs think before they put in their claims in the future.’14 The extent of some of their property portfolios was no surprise to the former Conservative MP Michael Brown, who had become a columnist for The Independent. He described his first trip to the fees office on the day he entered Parliament in 1979. He was asked for his national insurance number and was told his salary would be £7,000 a year. ‘As my constituency was 200 miles from London I was given a book of claim forms for the additional costs allowance of £3,000 a year. The fees office suggested I claim £250 a month. I could stay in London if I chose, no one was going to ask, and no receipts were required. Staff in the fees office were the servants of the House and the House took MPs on trust.’15 Brown said that over the years the allowance steadily became more generous. The turning point was during Margaret Thatcher’s Premiership: ‘In 1983 the additional costs allowance was increased and MPs were allowed to use it to pay for a mortgage on a second home; that was the beginning of MPs joining the property business.’


Amid the furore generated by its exclusive stories the Daily Telegraph always took care not to reveal MPs’ addresses in print, although the publication of photographs of their properties meant their location was hardly a secret. Nonetheless the paper was praised for having taken this precaution by the Conservative MP Dr Julian Lewis, who had supported moves to keep addresses secret because he feared the identification of MPs’ homes was a security risk. In March 2009, two months before the expenses scandal broke, Dr Lewis had successfully moved an amendment to the Political Parties and Elections Bill to allow all candidates in Parliamentary elections to keep their home addresses secret.  MPs argued that the move was justified on security grounds to protect them from attack by terrorists or harassment from angry constituents.  Harriet Harman was challenged by the Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow when the Daily Telegraph first revealed that addresses had been vital in exposing flipping between properties. He accused MPs of having engaged in ‘a step-by-step cover-up’ to block Freedom of Information requests but Ms Harman insisted that it had been the House of Commons that had decided to keep addresses out of the public domain.16


MPs only themselves to blame for creating a black market in information


For Heather Brooke the Daily Telegraph’s scoop was a bittersweet moment. She had spent the previous five years trying to force the Parliamentary authorities to answer questions and it was largely as a result her repeated applications, along with those of journalists, that the files had been scanned. Despite initially being ‘livid’ that a newspaper had acquired the data in return for money,17 she said her book The Silent State that its reporters had done ‘a phenomenal job’ in going through the unexpurgated expenses files and in helping the public to understand what they contained. ‘I don’t begrudge them anything, even if they did take away my scoop.’18 Her role as a long-standing campaigner against MPs’ defiance of Freedom of Information meant she was much in demand once the story broke, and in a series of television interviews she said the House of Commons had only itself to ‘blame for creating a black market’ in data relating to MPs’ expenses.19


Initially the Speaker and the Commons Commission seemed intent on vengeance, demanding a Police investigation. Their fury had been stoked by the earlier stories which they were convinced were based on information leaked from the fees office.  Speculation in March 2009 about illicit files being offered to newspapers had been heightened by an investigation on Newsnight. After the programme’s reporter Michael Crick described how copies of receipts for every MP were up for sale, Sir Stuart Bell, a leading member of the Commission, claimed the asking price was £300,000; a figure also quoted by The Times. He said the House had a ‘pretty good idea’ about the source. An investigation was underway into the theft of data and what appeared to have been a breach of the Official Secrets Act.20 Once the Daily Telegraph broke the story, Sir Stuart was the first to confirm the accuracy of the leak. He acknowledged that four years’ worth of receipts appeared to have been stolen.21


On the fourth day of disclosures the Conservative Party leader David Cameron, then being advised by the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, tried to seize the agenda in a series of television interviews in which he said it had been another ‘bad day for Parliament’ and ‘we are sorry about that’.22 Next morning Gordon Brown followed suit saying he wanted ‘to apologise on behalf of politicians, on behalf of all parties’. Yet in his first response, rather than build on the Prime Minister’s apology, Speaker Martin went on the offensive, setting out the reasons for calling in the Police. Because the unauthorised disclosure included details of ‘bank accounts, style of signature and verbal passwords’ he thought a ‘criminal offence’ might have been committed and the person who sold the data could not be left ‘in situ’ able to offer the material to the ‘highest bidder’. Martin compounded his failure to join the chorus of apologies by unexpectedly rounding on MPs who dared to suggest Parliament should be reforming itself rather than calling in the Police. Norman Baker was admonished for being ‘keen to say to the press whatever the press wants to hear’ after he suggested expenses claims should be always be published as soon as possible.


Freedom of Information ‘completely mucked up the system’


Campaigners for greater openness believed the Speaker had sealed his own fate: Martin had consistently encouraged the Commission to thwart Freedom of Information and was considered the principal road block to reform.  An early day motion tabled that evening by the Conservative MP Douglas Carswell called on Martin to stand down. His misjudgement of the mood of the House became all the more embarrassing as details emerged about the subsidies being paid to Tory grandees for the upkeep on their country estates.  That weekend the press identified Martin as the likeliest scapegoat. Several editorials accused him of bringing Parliament into disrepute.  In his second statement, on the eleventh day of the scandal, Martin bowed to the clamour for an apology but remained as combative as the week before. He said they must ‘all accept blame’; he was ‘profoundly sorry’; and he called for an urgent meeting with party leaders to discuss reform of the expenses system. MPs were aghast at Martin’s attempt to brazen it out and by his refusal to accept Carswell’s motion for a vote of confidence.  Lobby correspondents had been briefed that the Prime Minister would ‘accept the will of the House’ and a discreet meeting with Brown that evening in the Speaker’s house was the prelude to what the Daily Telegraph would claim was ‘A very British Revolution’.23 Next day, at the start of business, Martin made a brief 33-second statement announcing that he would relinquish the office of Speaker the following month.   


From the outset the Daily Telegraph’s editor William Lewis had been convinced there was a clear public interest in their investigation if the details about MPs’ expenses were genuine.  Neither the Commons Commission nor the Stationery Office had taken the precaution of giving the scanned documents a security classification and his journalists believed there was no danger of falling foul of the Official Secrets Act.24 Lewis was also advised that the disk did not constitute stolen property; it was simply a copy.25 Although still fearful as how to how the Police might respond, there was widespread relief on the second evening of the investigation when the paper’s deputy political editor Robert Winnett received a text from ‘one of the country’s most senior police officers, congratulating him on the scoop’.26 Within days of Speaker Martin telling Parliament the Police had been called in, Lewis received information from ‘a highly placed source that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, had decided not to launch an investigation into the leak’.27 In his statement confirming the decision, Sir Paul said the Crown Prosecution Service had concluded that a public interest defence would be a ‘significant hurdle’ to any successful outcome.


Perhaps the most telling footnote to the whole sorry saga was a Conservative MP’s broadside against the Labour government for introducing the Freedom of Information Act in the first place and for having ‘completely mucked up the system’. According to the Daily Telegraph’s figures Anthony Steen, MP for Totnes, had spent £87,000 of public funds over four years on his country home, including £459 for a forestry expert to inspect 500 trees in the grounds.  When challenged on the World At One he claimed the paper’s daily stream of revelations had turned Parliament into a soap opera.  ‘We have a wretched government here that introduced the Freedom of Information Act and it was this government that insisted on the things that caught me on the wrong foot...What right does the public have to interfere in my private life?...This is a kangaroo court.’28 Cameron, shocked by the outburst, warned that the Conservative whip would be withdrawn if the remarks were repeated. Later that day Steen, who had already promised to stand down at the 2010 election, admitted he overreacted. ‘I am sorry that in the heat of the moment I said inappropriate things that weren’t as measured as I would have liked about the Freedom of Information Act, which I entirely support.’  Notwithstanding his apology, his tirade encapsulated the breathtaking arrogance of those MPs who believed the public had no right or justification to know how they spent their taxpayer-funded allowances.    


1 YouGov, Sun, 15 May 2009


2 YouGov, Sunday Times, 18 October 2009


3 Ipsos MORI, The Observer, 27 September, 2009


4 VisionCritical, Sunday Express, 10 February 2013


5 Ipsos Mori, London Evening Standard, 15 February 2013


6 Daily Telegraph, ‘The Truth about the Cabinet’s expenses’, 8 May 2009


7 Brooke, Heather: interview, No Expenses Spared, Winnett, Robert and Rayner, Gordon, Daily Telegraph Books (2009) London, p.20


8 Baker, Norman: ‘Never in my 20 years in politics have I seen the public as angry as today’, Mail on Sunday, 10 May 2009


9 Leapman, Ben: Tsar’s plan to publish ‘watered down’, Sunday Telegraph, 31 May 2009


10 No Expenses Spared, p.27


11 Leapman, Ben: My four-year battle for the truth, Sunday Telegraph, 10 May 2009


12 Sunday Express, Jacqui Smith put adult films on expenses, 29 March 2009


13 Brooke, Heather: interview, Channel 4 News, 8 May 2009


14 Brooke, Heather: interview, BBC News Channel, 8 May 2009


15 Brown, Michael: interview, Radio 4 Today programme, 9 May 2009


16 Harman, Harriet: interview, Channel 4 News, 8 May 2009


17 Brooke, Heather, ‘My five-year fight to reveal the truth about MPs’ expenses’, The Guardian, 15 May 2009


18 Brooke, Heather: The Silent State William Heinemann 2010, serialised Mail on Sunday 21 March 2010


19 Brooke, Heather: interview, Channel 4 News, 8 May 2009


20 Bell, Sir Stuart: interview, Newsnight, 30 March 2009


21 Bell, Sir Stuart: interview, Channel 4 News, 8 May, 2009


22 Cameron, David: interview, BBC Ten o’Clock News,    May 2009


23 Daily Telegraph, ‘A very British revolution’ 20 May, 2009


24 No Expenses Spared, p.37


25 No Expenses Spared, p.75


26 No Expenses Spared, p.157


27 No Expenses Spared, p.239


28 Steen, Anthony: interview, BBC World At One, 21 May 2009


Note on the contributor


Nicholas Jones was a BBC industrial and political correspondent for thirty years.  He has written extensively on the relationship between politicians and the media. In his book Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister, he investigated MPs’ obstruction of the 2000 Freedom of Information Act, the leaks leading up to the MPs’ expenses scandal of 2009 and the way it was exploited in the lead-up to the 2010 general election. His other books include Trading Information: Leaks, Lies and Tip-offs (2006).  News archive:

Illustrations: Daily Telegraph